Under: Self-defense
11 Oct 2015


Maybe late one night/early morning, you are walking to your car from a night club with friends and you get attacked! What do you think your considerations would be? Do you have confidence in the way you train and the tools of your martial art?


Let me just say I have always considered fighting – fighting! I mean (and for my purposes I only use fighting for self-defense) whatever method of fighting you choose – it should be inclusive enough to have methods to take on most kinds of attacks. So if the odd thug that wants your wallet or pack of dogs attack you, or that ever popular fight over the quarter on the pool table happens to you and you cannot use your deescalation techniques you have perfected over the years – you will have to fight back.


To me fighting not only includes unarmed methods but using weapons with my martial art methods. This includes various improvised weapons (as I call them in Kenpo). To me this does not include depending on a weapon for self-defense but rather on my training.


Here is a video that initially speaks to improvised weapons that I like up to 2:20 and then it starts going into specific weapon martial arts methods. While I certainly agree that learning some of other martial arts can help if you need to use that type of weapon – I do not think you need to be an expert in eastern stick or knife fighting to use a stick or knife with karate for instance. So with that disclaimer please watch the beginning of this video and I’ll comment later.




So this video does not seem to be integrating unarmed martial arts with weapons but rather depending on the weapon as is done in weapon fighting. I don’t think a karate practitioner gets any value to supplement his karate with that approach. For instance in this video you see the guys doing flow drills standing right next to each other. Well any martial artist that understands initial movement as taught by Joe Lewis (R.I.P) or Bruce Lee (R.I.P) will see the folly of that approach.


Inside of each-other’s critical distance – the first one that strikes (with whatever) employing initial movement – wins!!! There is absolutely nothing the opponent can do about it unless he/she was already throwing up a block (without seeing the attack). That is a big part why I don’t want to learn a knife fighting or stick fighting martial art.


Since I am already good at Kenpo Karate – I’ll stick with that understanding of critical distance and initial movement and just add any weapons (traditional or improvised) to my karate methods.


Case in point that night club street attack? The simplest defense out there is to use your fingers for a fainted eye poke and snap kick to the groin for a close attacker. If there is more than one – you have to move around until you have just one guy lined up. If the attacker has a knife – attack the eyes with your belt and snap kick his groin. If you have a knife – faint to the eyes with a stab and kick the groin. Do you get what I’m saying? You do not have to try and match your opponents fighting style by limiting your responses just to look cool or perhaps you don’t know this already.


So fighting is fighting… no matter who or what you are fighting. That means whatever unarmed martial art you are used to using (hopefully a striking method) can be used to fight just outside of the critical distance and have the advantage of incorporating any type of weapon available. That was you can still fight the way you train. If the way you train is effective for unarmed fighting methods, using a weapon (and not depending on it) is just an extension of your marital art.


What styles will work like this? Any striking martial arts style or method (traditional or not) that employs outside fighting methods (moves are best started just outside your opponents critical distance) with initial movement. It does not make any difference what weapon (short of a projectile weapon) is used so long as you use that weapon in conjunction with the fighting method you are proficient at already.


So you can fight a great knife fighter if you do not fight the way he does. You can fight a sword fighter so long as you do not give in to sword play (meaning just thrusting at opportune moments with initial movements) You can take on a stick fighter so longs as you do not stick fight (but use your stick along with kicks and punches and initial movement).


You are already (hopefully) an expert in what you do in striking. No reason to change that but there is one more piece I should mention – distance.


For this to work (i.e. fighting an expert knife fighter with karate and an improvised weapon – even another knife), you have to understand distance. A knife fighter will tend to depend on his knife (this is good) because it leaves out the rest of his weapons and gives you an advantage. He has one knife and if you also have a knife – you also have at least one more hand and two more feet. Plus you are an expert at outside fighting with improvised weapons.


You cannot not hope to have the expert knife fighters skills with a knife but your foot work should be better or at least as good – plus you have other weapons the knife fighter does not have. As the fight starts (that you cannot talk your way out of or escape – you find a knife from a friend – and try to draw the attacker out. He makes a few lunges at you as you evade. You wait until his next lunge – stab at his face… he tries to parry as he attempts to move – giving you the opportunity to snap or flip kick his groin… – you rain down a few side/rear kicks as he is going down and stomp his head… fight over.


So you understanding critical distance and using an improvised weapon with karate methods – gives you an edge.


I should say this only works if you fight from the outside. If you tried to become a knife fighter – you gave up any advantage your years as a master of karate might have afforded you and the contest came down to who was the better knife fighter (I would have to assume the expert knife fighter would win).


So for distance there is inside the critical distance, at the critical distance, outside the critical distance and far outside (or however you want to label it). If you are a proficient martial artist in sparring and already understand how to fight at or just outside your opponent’s critical distance then you have the makings of a good improvised weapons fighter.


You will still have to practice with improvised weapons to have a better chance – but still if you understand distance you can make it work in a pinch. Just do not fall into the trap of trying to become a sword fighter if you fight an opponent with a sword. You are not a sword fighter unless you devote years of practice to that… just leverage your striking martial art with any type of improvised weapon coupled with critical distance and initial movement and no ego grasshopper.

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6 Responses to “Fighting, Weapons and Critical Distance Perspectives”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Thanks for this discussion, John! You make several important and useful points. I’ve often thought about how I would use my karate skills against various weapons. (I already know about a pack of dogs :-) I hope one of the advantages we have from being around the martial arts is seeing so many different types of weapons demonstrated even if we don’t have that level of skills, at least we know what they can do.

    While watching the video, I had this image of an electrician, carpenter, and plumber fighting! That’s why I only have one of them working on the house at a time, lol

  2. Toby Massell Says:

    Good stuff as usual John.
    Some points you bring up about not fighting the fight, the knife fight etc are crucial.

    Improvisation in all techniques are crucial, not just weapons.

    Anything can be used as a weapon even if it can’t hurt anyone. For example, a hat can be used as a distraction weapon.

  3. Jamie Says:

    Awesome post. I definitely agree with you on not trying to become something you’re not when a fight breaks out. With the stress of the situation and your adrenaline pumping, the situation is difficult enough to deal with without trying something new.

    I would feel confident in using my muay thai skills to defend myself, but I’ve never tried to integrate weapons into my striking. I’m sure the two would work well though and I could use a hand-held weapon in combination with front kicks to push attackers off, and low kicks to disable an attacker.

  4. Kiki Says:

    I can’t get enough of these training videos. When it comes to training with improvised weapons, I will always recommend having something you can grab onto that is more than just a means to hit. A small can of pepper spray or a taser are my best friends in a fight. Thanks for the info.-yoursecurityguru.com

  5. Tony Dimattes Says:

    Very true Jamie…

    One must always avoid getting into unwanted troubles….

    But I have a very small question, if somebody is not trained in any of the skill and he or she has to face the danger and there is no escape… than what that person should do??????

    Well, here I want to say via this question that nobody is interested in getting in trouble.. But if such situation arrives… one should have some sort of self defense tool that could help them to get out of such dangers and buy time to call for a better help…

    I thank you John for sharing this post and motivating people to become more capable and alert…

    Great Share!!

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    I believe in a layered defense strategy, meaning learn to fight (whatever you want to call it), get into shape so you can fight, become proficient in improvised weapons, get lethal and non-lethal weapons to the extent they are legal where you live and be observant. Maybe get a large dog or two for at home.

    Bottom line you are in charge of your self defense – the cops will not be there initially if you get attacked.

    Good luck